Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The painful past and uncertain future of Diego Buonanotte
(www.FiveinMidfield.com is a football blog written by Joe Sharratt, a writer/blogger trying to play his way into the packed midfield that is sports journalism. He covers topics from around the world related to the beautiful game, with a particular focus on offering thought provoking and well researched features exploring some of football's forgotten heroes and stories. This article was written by Joe for FiveinMidfield and reappears here with his permission. Please do visit www.FiveinMidfield.com where your feedback is welcomed, and you can also follow Joe on Twitter @FiveinMidfield)
Just a few short years ago Diego Buonanotte was a young man with the world at his feet. Already a regular in the River Plate side by the age of just eighteen, the talented midfielder was even being mentioned in the same breath as the great Diego Maradona, a comparison not without merit. Dubbed El Enano – the Dwarf – Buonanotte stands at just five feet and three inches tall, but despite his tiny frame he was making a huge impression in his native Argentina. Buonanotte’s debut for River Plate came in April 2006 when he was just seventeen years of age, and he was held in such high regard by River coach Daniel Passarella that, despite his tender years, Buonanotte was thrown into the cauldron of the Superclásico just six months later. His early appearances for his club caught the eye of Sergio Batista, who selected Buonanotte as part of the Argentine squad that took home Gold from the 2008 Olympic Games, with the youngster scoring a sublime freekick against Serbia in the group stages. Buonanotte was playing with the joie de vivre that comes naturally to a young man on the verge of a successful career, and was attracting suitors amongst a range of top European clubs. Everything seemed in place for a long and successful career.
But on Boxing Day 2009 Buonanotte’s life changed forever. As he drove his three friends Alexis Fulcheri, Emanuel Melo and Gerardo Sune home from a night out near his home town of Teodelina, Buonanotte lost control of his father’s Peugeot 307 in dreadful conditions on an isolated country freeway. The car careered off the road and collided with huge force with a tree. The impact left the vehicle as nothing more than a twisted mass of metal. Friends of the four travelling in another vehicle behind them were the first on the scene. Buonanotte was pulled alive from the wreckage by fire-fighters, but tragically Fulcheri, Melo and Sune died as a result of their injuries. After being stabilised in hospital Buonanotte was transferred to a private clinic in Buenos Aires. He had suffered a broken collarbone, a broken right arm, damage to his lungs and severe bruising to his chest. Initial reports estimated that it would be at least seven months before he could play football again. Media attention also focused on the revelation that, of the car’s four occupants, Buonanotte was the only one to have been wearing a seatbelt.
Despite his catalogue of injuries Buonanotte made a remarkable recovery, and was even fit enough to return to action in April 2010, just four months after the crash. His first appearance back in a River Plate shirt came just days shy of his twenty-second birthday, with a half-hour substitute appearance in a 2-1 victory over Godoy Cruz, where he performed with distinction, and was treated to a hero’s reception by the River Plate faithful. Not everybody was celebrating his miraculous recovery however. In an interview with the national sports publication Ole following his return to football, Buonanotte revealed how he has had to become used to the sickening taunts of ‘murderer’ levelled at him by opposition supporters wherever he goes. “It is really tough, but I can’t do anything but face up to it and have faith that everything will get better”, Buonanotte declared. He also spoke candidly about his fears over returning to the game in the wake of the tragedy, saying “I was scared about what would happen because when you enter the stadium you forget about everything. I was wrong though, players are very respectful. The ones who don’t have respect are the fans”. The further threat to Buonanotte is the prospect of legal proceedings being taken against him. In September last year an Argentinean court ruled that he could be charged with triple manslaughter over his role in the accident. Though no traces of alcohol or narcotics were detected in Buonanotte’s bloodstream, and it was confirmed that he had not been speeding, prosecutors argued his failure to take into account the treacherous conditions that night were a contributing factor to the accident. Though no further action has been taken as of yet, it is no doubt a significant weight on the shoulders of El Enano.
Nevertheless Buonanotte remained a fixture in a River Plate side battling against an unprecedented relegation last year. His performances continued to attract praise, and a lucrative transfer again seemed a possibility. Then, on January 14th 2011, Buonanotte finally sealed the move to Europe that was so frequently mooted before the accident. Though he would initially be loaned back to River Plate to complete the 2011 domestic season, Malaga had paid a fee of £3.8 million to secure the midfielder’s services. The move will hopefully offer Buonanotte the opportunity to escape his past. Though with Malaga rooted to the bottom of the La Liga table, there is a real possibility that it is in the Spanish Segunda División that he may yet find refuge. Were this to be the case, it would represent a spectacular outcome for a man once regarded as one of the finest young talents in the world, who averaged close to a goal every four games in over a hundred appearances for one of the biggest clubs in world football.Whatever the future holds for Buonanotte it is clear that the scars of his past will haunt him for the rest of his life. Whilst the circumstances surrounding the death of his three friends may be debated in court rooms for some time to come, the hope is that football may yet provide solace for a talented young man whose life has taken a cruel turn. Perhaps it is one the pitch too that Buonanotte can best pay tribute to his departed friends.